I took four years of Spanish in high school. Today, I’m only good for “Hola!” and, “Dónde está el baño?” (At least I’m covered where friendliness and a very basic human need are concerned.)
And that’s why I was intrigued by the idea that learning a language, especially a dead language, could make you a better founder, a better CEO...really a better anything.
So here’s a guest post from Michael Ortner, the CEO and co-founder of Capterra, a website dedicated to helping people find the right software for their business.
For centuries, Latin represented one of the core subjects of a quality education. In fact, knowledge of Latin may once have been the single best indicator of whether you were educated. As William Wallace's uncle Argyle points out in the 1995 hit movie Braveheart, "You don't speak Latin? Well that's something we shall have to remedy, isn't it."
What happened to Latin? Most schools don't even offer it anymore, and the ones that do usually make it an elective. It was cut from core curriculums because it was presumably not viewed as practical in an age in which modern education has become all about utility. If the benefits are not immediately visible (i.e., there's no direct connection to getting into college and landing a career), then most students (and, unfortunately, also their parents) have no interest.
What if Latin was the ultimate building block, the intellectual equivalent of cauliflower and carrots? What if studying Latin has very few direct, visible, short-term benefits but is the key ingredient to helping all of us think more logically, exercise better judgment, be less prone to deception, understand language more fully, and even be more virtuous? What if the study of Latin, more than any of the more practical fields of study like business, computer science, education, or biology, is the key to success for future business leaders, engineers, teachers, and doctors?
I think it is. Here's why:
Our intelligence is not fixed at birth. Studying Latin will make you smarter.
The frequent deductive reasoning required to learn and understand this highly inflected language serves to foster clear, logical thinking. Mastery of logic is essential in business (and science, engineering, medicine, etc.). It enables you to exercise sound judgment, think critically, and creatively problem-solve. It not only allows you to bridge the gap between two seemingly unrelated ideas but to distill data down to a core meaning, identify patterns, and think of solutions.
Logical thinking also enhances your ability to plan, consider the consequences of your options, and recognize your own biases. (Most of us would agree that our society is suffering through a logic drought at the moment.)
Anything we can do to train the mind to think in a more deliberate and systematic fashion will help us achieve our fullest potential, regardless of our chosen profession. Learning Latin may very well be the best exercise for accomplishing this.
The original works of some of history's greatest philosophers and writers--think Virgil, Cicero, and Augustine--are all in Latin. While English-language versions of these works exist, the quantity of different Latin-English translations are an indicator that translation is more of an art than an exact science, and one that loses a significant amount of meaning in the process.
Knowing Latin allows you to bypass the interpretation barrier and gain a perspective closer to the source text. The wisdom held in these texts is as valuable today as it was thousands of years ago. It will lead you to consider what it means to live a good life and to question fundamental notions about knowledge, virtue, and truth.
This is not something most of us do in our day-to-day lives, but there are many benefits to philosophical inquiry. To start, studying these texts will strengthen your ability to exercise good judgment. Exploring the classics affords you the opportunity to grapple with some of life's greatest questions and consider the perspectives of some of history's greatest minds.
These lessons will buttress you against deceit or distraction--by competitors, co-workers, the media, politicians, and so-called experts--from what matters. They will also instill a valuable sense of perspective and an internal compass for right and wrong, which provides guidance on both a sweeping and an intimate scale.
These ideas will inform the direction you take in your business, as well as the way you treat your employees, customers, and partners. And who couldn't use more help in these areas?
Reading some of history's greatest works in Latin is challenging but also comes with a sense of accomplishment. And your desire for continued growth and improvement will only increase. Once you encounter some of the classics that have endured the test of time, taking on the works of other great writers throughout history will not seem so daunting.
And reading, studying, and appreciating Plato, Shakespeare, and Homer will only continue to open your mind to new ideas and questions that you had not considered before, better arming you to handle the daily challenges that you will face in your career.
Keep in mind I’m not denigrating other fields of study. Engineering, science, medicine, and business are all awesome pursuits, and worthy of study. But without first developing the ability to think clearly and logically, our industry leaders in these fields will fail to live up their full potential.
I'd much rather hire a great thinker who has never studied business than a business major who never learned to think well.
Latin will stimulate your appetite to learn the great ideas of the world in a way that few other courses of study can. Moreover, it will inspire you to think through your own ideas about "truth," "goodness," and "beauty," which will open up whole new avenues for exploration.
This appetite will seep into your business life. It will awaken your desire to make a mark and contribute in some way to humanity, which is really what entrepreneurship boils down to--the desire to have an impact on the world around us.
Latin will inspire you to aim higher, and make the challenges you face seem eminently surmountable. It will cultivate your perseverance, humility, curiosity, problem solving, creativity, empathy, and decision making.
I only wish I'd started studying it sooner.